Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah Meaning
Song Released: 1984
Covered By: Rufus Wainwright (2007), Jordan Smith (2015)
anonymous Mar 20th, 2015 3:22pm report
In the life of David, his worst almost unforgivable blunder was the taking of the woman bathing on the roof who is Bethsheeba. In order to call her his own he had to send her husband, Uriah, the Hitite, to the front lines where he was almost certain to die and he did get killed and David claimed her for his wife. The karma lives on with their son Solomon who achieves greatness in wisdom with the Lord but also falls to lust with many princesses from other nations for political reasons and Solomon ends up worshipping many gods of foreign lands and loses his one-pointed devotion to God. David enjoyed such a closeness with God also before his sin. LC goes through the human drama of love, ups and downs, the highs and the lows. It is such a painful song about putting too much faith in human love and when that fails you are left empty and alone. In spiritual love, there is no pain but an eternal blossoming. But being human, like David, we easily fall prey to the enticement. Human love can be very beautiful and fulfilling if you love without attachment. But that is quite difficult sometimes. We love one person and forget the creator of that Love which is the Lord. Earthly love needs balance or it most definitely will end in pain. If the Lord is first in your life, if following the truth in your heart is first, then you will develop wisdom and balance and that will extend into your love life. It will be long lasting. If you love another without seeing God in that person, that love is doomed because there is always a chance for conflict. If your human love is viewed as but one aspect of the whole of your life, there will be balance and success in all undertakings. your marriage will last into a Golden anniversary. Hallelujah. But LC is not saying all that. He is hanging on to the power and passion of a purely physical mental emotional bond that has now lost its magnetism and it is a song of loss for a shattered dream. But he also remembers the power that the love once had and that in essence "It is better to have lived and loved than to have never loved at all." As human beings we are also very attached to our dramas be they sad or happy. Sad dramas carry deep passion and we are very attached to our great sadness. It ensures us that we are human and the pain reinforces that fact over and over again. This never ending drama also ensures our rebirth in the Buddhist sense of reincarnation to keep on experiencing our passions time and time again until we finally decide that the pain is either too much or too boring and then we make the final decision to disengage from the world and journey inward for true satisfaction...Hallelujah
anonymous Mar 27th, 2010 3:45pm report
The first time I heard this song it touched me. Both the melody and the words are really powerful. This is my interpretation.
The logic of the song is there can be many different hallelujah's. Hallelujah can be said in many different circumstances.
Lennard Cohen uses this theme to talk about the hardships of love.
There are many biblical references in the song (King David, Samson and Delilah). I will not go in to them, other have already explained these references in great detail.
There are many versions of this song. Even LC did not always sing the same verses.
I believe the version he performed during his 2008 tour (maybe still does) is the most logical (complete):
Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
David loves music, but his love does not. He does not understand this (is baffled) and tries to explain (the cords are matched by the actual song), thus composing the Hallelujah.
I believe this is about unmatched intrests in a relationship.
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
The man (David) falls in love, but the relation is not a healty one. It ends up with him submitting and losing his powers. It is a distructive relationship and the Hallelujah is one of dispair.
Maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
Maybe the most "black" verse, reflecting on the bitterness of love. When you hear a Hallelujah it's probably not because of joy (seeing the light), but because someone is hurting.
Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
The relationship still exists, but it's hollow. It is like it was when he was alone. He has seen the glorious side of love (the flag on the marble arch), but the love is not lasting and his hart is broken, therefore the Hallelujah is cold and broken.
There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
He remembers when things were good, how their lovemaking made him feel like they were really together, and their Hallelujahs were those of joy and ecstasy.
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
The conclusion of the song: Here LC turns from looking back to looking forward.
We try, but often fail in love. We start with the best intentions and though it can go wrong, we need to try. In the end it is worth it. This Hallelujah is optimistic, because it shows that the hardships have not defeated him.
This last verse is not included in most covers, but for me the last verse makes the song complete. It takes it full circle, bringing back the biblical relationship between the subject and a (the) Lord. It also gives the song a hyperbolic ending, which I prefer.
Most of the interpretations I have heard refer to biblical stories and of course it is impossible to ignore the analogies with King David and Bathsheba. However,I think these can obscure the meaning of the song and I would rather go beyond them. Analyzing a poem line by line sometimes misses the core of meaning which may actually be not fully realized by the poet himself.What after all was Kubla Khan, Coleridges poem about? It came out of a drug-induced reverie and the words are impossible to interpret literally.
What I see in the poem is a man who finds it hard to reconcile his own singular personal quest for truth as a spiritual seeker and as a creative artist with earthly love.He is "overthrown" by the beauty of the woman bathing on the roof and intoxicated with desire for her yet with that comes compromise.Being tied to a kitchen chair suggests being bound to domesticity and having his hair cut recalls Samson whose strength was lost when Delilah cut his hair.He feels he has sacrificed his power for ephemeral sexual desire,emotional needs and freedom from the burden of loneliness.
And inevitably the hallelujah, the ecstasy fades and withit bitterness and disillusionment since his lover has no feeling for creativity as evidenced by her lack of interest in music,his explanation of which seems to fall on deaf ears.
At the same time,the sexual magnetism, "down below" has diminished or even gone in the way that the energy of many relationships weaken into dead habit.
So there is a sense he has been left with nothing, doubting a god above and likening earthly love to a gunfight.It is as if he has betrayed his deepest yearnings and is only left with a cold and broken hallelujah, an empty exhortation, a state of inner desolation.
Yet the tone of the song is so bittersweet, so beautiful and sad that there might be a suggestion that he has reconciled those feelings and accepted the limits of the relationship,knowing that even sharing a life with someone cannot assuage his inner loneliness.
Hallelujah is a beautiful,ironic and melancholy masterpiece.
Gregory Seery Sep 18th, 9:36pm report
While Leonard is an observant Jew, his belief seems riddled with doubt. God may exist, he may not, or maybe the Jewish view of God is incorrect. At the end of the day, Leonard just doesn't know.
But also, at the end of the day, Leonard recognizes that, like all of us, he's living in this world, a world with temptations, disappointments, glories and heartbreak. Faced with these dichotomies, we can either fall to despair, or seek some form of spirituality to carry us through.
Spirituality, in its broader meaning, refers to our relationship with the world and the others that we share the world with. We are all connected, whether it be via some vast spiritual being that we're all just some manifest fragment of, or simply because we're all here on Earth, and are all in the same boat together. Either way works.
When Leonard says "Hallelujah" he's telling us that no matter what view of spirituality we want to embrace, our best affirmation of this spiritual connection is to simply be grateful. Grateful that we've been allowed to experience life in all of the varied levels that we've encountered. Bitterness will not help us ride out this roller coaster, gratitude will.
Hallelujah, I'm grateful that I've been allowed to participate!
anonymous Sep 3rd, 9:49pm report
This song is about David's relationship with God and at the same time Leonard Cohen's. This interpretation is not based on this song only but the words of some of LC's others. He speaks a lot about recognizing his brokenness. I refer to the four verse version rather than the six verse.
The first is about the "secret chord David played that pleased the Lord." There is no such secret music chord, that chord is repentance from the mistake he made with Bathsheba. "But you do not care for music (repentance) do you". "It goes like this the fourth the fifth, the minor fall" (David's transgression), "the major lift" (David's restitution subsequent to his repentance Ps 51, after the prophet Nathan had pointed out his sin). "The King of battle, (which David was) composing hallelujah" or praise the Lord. David wrote many of the Psalms including many of praise. LC had experienced similar events in his life which were also transgressions (he spoke to himself about this is the song 'going home')
The second verse is David's faith "your was strong (had killed a lion, a bear and Goliath) but you needed proof" and then he saw her (Bathsheba) on the roof, her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you" (David and LC). The point being that none of us knows whether we can withstand enough temptation. The beauty and moonlight can overthrow us. His sin with Bathsheba overthrew him until he repented. This pleased the Lord. LC draws an analogy with the Samson-Delilah incident. She tied him to a kitchen chair, she broke his throne and cut his hair and from Davids mouth she drew (removed) David's desire to praise God.
Third verse, "you say I took His name in vain". Here LC is referring about himself and the life which he feels has not been as God-honoring as it could have been. "But I don't even know the name" (LC is searching after God including within the teachings of Christ. He refers to this often in other songs of his, for example that he does not understand the sermon on the mount). This is a deep sermon that many Christians also do not understand. LC understands a lot more than he lets on. "But if I did really what is it to you". We are not to judge the actions of others in that way. "There is a blaze of light in every word, it does not matter what you heard the holy or the broken, hallelujah". God is light (1 Jn 1:5) and when one speaks to God, whether out of brokenness (LC is very conscious of his) or holiness (no human is holy, but some may not feel the extreme sense of brokenness that LC does).
Fourth verse "I did my best, it was not much, I couldn't feel so I tried to touch (Read Act 17:27 in KJV where Paul explains to people on Mars Hill, that people seek God by feeling after Him that they might find Him, yet he is not far from us). "I've told the truth, I did not come to fool you". LC is telling us the truth of his life in this song. "and even though it all went wrong" (LC is repentant of many things in his life - he alone knows the extent), "I'll stand before the Lord of Song (God), with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah (praise). LC is aware that although he has fallen God will restore him like David. LC (like all of us) has nothing to offer but repentance, but God will honor that.
LC is a deeply spiritual man, spent 6 years in a monastery. He is acutely aware of how he has fallen and tells himself in many of his songs that he will be restored one day. Listen to LCs songs 'come healing", 'going home' (where he talks to himself and assures himself that he will leave behind his burden) and also 'anthem' where our brokenness is necessary for light to enter.
In many ways LC is reminiscent of Leo Tolstoy, a fellow human who was also tempted and felt too weak to withstand it, in spite of wanting to do otherwise. May God bless LC and many other of our fellow humans so troubled. May God have mercy on others of us who are not at all troubled about our transgressions.
anonymous Sep 1st, 9:43pm report
Your flag on the marble arch was when hitler draped a nazi flag over the arc de triumph and marched his soldiers into france with little to no resistance.
Hence, the love existing between the couple he is singing about has lost all meaning, and is worthless like nazi germany's conquest of france.
My opinion anyway but yes, i have come to see that my love for god must come first, or i will end up like i am currently. Broken, lost, confused and alone, and missing my sons with every breath...
anonymous Aug 28th, 8:51am report
It's the story of returning to your first love, the safest place. Hallelujah. In human love, we are easily swept away and disillusioned to believe it is more than just chemistry. In the beginning we share what's deeply felt inside our souls with another and seemingly they with us. Unfortunately, once the conquest is made immaturity seeks something different instead of something deeper, more difficult, more dark, below the surface of we are willing to expose anymore. One person is abandoned for another and we are left completely exposed and vulnerable. Once lost, the pain we feel from having been nothing more than one more persons victory we are left with what to do with their new love interest that outdrew us...then return to our first love which cannot ever let us down because of its nature of relationship with us. Human emotional love is outgrown and a more stable version of mutual support and a commitment of sacrifice is accepted and traded in for the fleeting pleasure and life long pain of unrequited human passions.
anonymous Aug 7th, 8:22am report
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anonymous Aug 6th, 8:51am report
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anonymous Jul 15th, 7:10pm report
I always thought Cohen was a dirty old man, but in a cooler-than-you kind of way.
So Hallelujah to me just seemed obviously sexual. lallelujah is the female orgasm, and how powerful and elusive it is.
Most of the song seems like a biblical analogy of oral sex on a woman.
I'm sorry if that offends those of you who consider it a hymn to be sung in church, but you know... Cohen is that brilliant dirty old man
anonymous Jul 13th, 7:57pm report
It's Adam and Eve all over again. Again and again and again.
Drawn to material things (as opposed to spiritual) they prove to fail in fulfillment and we are left seeking higher power once again - often it takes being broken to bring us to place of seeking.
Not that love isn't spiritual... but reliance on things human proves both unlasting and unfulfilling and invariably ends in being let down.
anonymous Jul 13th, 7:05am report
I found this song moves me to great depths! But I couldn't understand the words.
Mr. Cohen was refreshingly clear..so I was interested in the history and input here.
I understand how an artist adds words to his ballad to feed the crouds..
Music is such that each person who experiences the song is touched emotionaly. And we each have our own depths of emotion. Our own experience. Our own interpretation.
As a woman I must alter words to get the meaning that is digging at my soul.
Also I sing an octive higher and with power. So this is my interpretation of this glorious work of soul cleansing art:
1: Now I've heard there was a secret cord
That David played and it Pleased The Lord..
(spoken) But you don't realy care for music. Do you?
(sung to my self..building to powerful crescendo) It goes like this: the fourth-the fifth. The minor fall and the major lift..
The baffled King compossing
HALLELUJAH!!! (victorious) (thankful) (joyouse)..
2: My faith was strong-but YOU needed proof.
(reflecting) you saw her bathing on the roof..Her beauty and the moonlight
(spoken. Wondering. Knowing an ah- ha moment.)overthrew you.
(sudden anger and bitterness) He tied me to the kitchen chair!
He broke my throne,and He cut my hair!
And from my lips He drew my Hallelujah! ( despairing, loss, pleading to God) hallelujah..
3. So maybe there's a God above,
But all I ever learned from love was how to shoot someone..who out drew you.
And its not a cry that you heard at night.
It's not somebody who's seen the light.
Its a cold and its a broken
(bitter realization. Conclusion on the fight within. But the discussion gose on
A discussion of faith and supositions.) 4: You say I "took the name in vain", I don't even know the name..Even though I did!
Well whats it to ya?
There's a blaze of light in Every Word!
It dosn't matter what you heard. The Holy or the broken Hallelujah. (repeat as determination and strength builds)
5: ..maybe I have been here before..
I know this room.
I've walked this floor.
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen my flag on the marble arch!..But love is not a victory march!
It's a cold
And its a broken
(contemplating loss and broken trust)
6: I did my best, though it wasn't enouph.
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch.
I told the Truth! I didn't come to fool you!
And even though it all went wrong
(determined in mind and heart) I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!..(ends with deep gratitude, assurance, leaving wreckage behind and joyful dedication to, and love of God)
This song sais that the important thing in life is not our failures and imperfect state, niether slander nor abandonment, nor loss, but strength of spirit and greatful acceptance of the Love of God. For your song can "Please the Lord".
anonymous Jul 12th, 7:42pm report
Oh, Hallelujah, praise You, Lord!
Please help Mr. Cohen and others to know who You are and to worship You in Spirit and in truth.
Please draw them to You. LORD God, You are love. You are what our hearts long for and the meaning of our lives. Hallelujah!!!
anonymous Mar 27th, 2016 3:27am report
Hallelujah reflects on the dichotomy between romantic and spiritual love
anonymous Mar 27th, 2016 3:04am report
It is the hardships of true love.
anonymous Feb 1st, 2016 2:59pm report
The phrase Hallelujah literally means "Praise Jehovah". As an old testament phrase, this was a poetic form of singing praise to God. As a writer of many portions of the psalms, David used this expression. Jehovah is identified in the original texts as Gods name. It was removed and still is absent in many modern bibles apart from Psalms 83.
The verse in the song referring to an unknown name, and the 'taking the name in vain' refers the 'jah' in hallelujah.. God's name that few people know these days.
anonymous Jan 12th, 2016 1:49pm report
The bottom line of this song is that it demonstrates the universality of all human experience. More so, it asserts that whether we know how, or why, whether we succeed or fail, or even whether we BELIEVE it or not, God is glorified. It artistically paints picture after picture of the individual coming to the realization that we are all subjects to an enigmatic, fearsome, yet somehow compassionate, King.
anonymous Jan 1st, 2016 1:32pm report
Our observations are extremely limited bc we experience the "world" through our senses. The person who posted on Oct 15th at 10:54 wrote a small explanation that's actually worthy of pondering.
Some are here to shed light and not to master
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